Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Random TV Thoughts: Watching The X Files

Whenever someone I know learns I’m watching The X Files, that someone mentions I should stop watching well before the end of the series. Whenever I peruse the Internet for reviews of specific episodes, the reviewer wrote a paragraph or two about the decline of the series. The AV Club reviewed the entire series a couple years ago. Both reviewers shared stories of when their interest in the series waned. After “Triangle,” one of the two reviewers wrote, “Rough stuff is ahead.” I enjoyed season six. I began season seven with trepidation, because the echoes of how bad the series goes resounded in my head. I’ve watched episodes guardedly, prepared for No Ordinary Family level of dreck at any one episode. After I watched “Rush,” the strangely Buffy Season 1 esque supernatural metaphor for puberty, I decided to quit watching episodes with preconceived notions about how bad it’d get, because that’s no way to watch television. I’m a completionist, but I won’t watch TV shows to completion if I’m forcing it. I let go, as it were, for “The Goldberg Variation” and the following episodes.

I don’t want to dig into why people hate the final seasons of the series with the vitriol LOST fans hate season six and the series finale. Not yet. I’ll figure it on my own, I think. I’m an adept watcher of television. (I know that’s not anything to brag about.) I even know and understand the broad reasons people lost interest and felt angry. The myth-arc devolved into gibberish. I thought Chris Carter and the writers hit the peak of the myth-arc between seasons three and four. Serialized stories risk disappointing the majority the fanbase. Fans want answers to their questions. Perhaps their demand for answers becomes intense because fiction can provide answers that life cannot. Some artists don’t think answering questions is the artist’s job, but that’s beside the point. Critics of True Detective point to Pizzolatto’s comments after season 1 concluded about the case not mattering as much as how the case mattered to the characters as a detriment. “Well, if the case doesn’t have more juice, it doesn’t matter how it affects the characters.” That’s nonsense. I can only speculate about what angered X Files fans. I’d guess the series ran too long.

Anyway, I watched the two-parter “Seid und Zeit” and “Closure.” A small part of me dreaded another 88 minutes of myth-arc story, but my new approach to watching the series helped me enter the experience openly. After the 88 minute story, which moved me more than I ever thought, I read The AV Club review of “Closure.” I learned about the episode’s divisiveness. I skimmed it to avoid learning that Carter backtracked on the fate of Samantha in seasons eight or nine, and then I thought about the maligned final seasons of the series again. The essence of “Closure” captures what best works in genre television, especially in genre shows that have a huge mythology and a variety of possibilities for what happened to different characters. Joss Whedon best utilized the monstrous metaphors for human things. Mulder’s search for his sister has been a convoluted journey. He found her clones, he learned about his parents’ duplicitous involvement in her disappearance, he learned about Cigarette Smoking Man’s involvement, he learned that The Syndicate offered their children to the aliens that wanted to colonize the planet, and his search for her motivated his story. What’s the most simple way to tell someone what The X Files is? It’s Mulder’s search for his missing sister.

The fourth and final act of The X Files almost leaves the fate of Samantha open, but Pillar’s little boy takes Mulder to the happy field where the children went after something terrible happened to them. Mulder sees her, forever fourteen and dead, and embraces her. “Closure” is gloomy and solemn, tinged by a bittersweet, though terribly sad, finality. She died because older men took her away to advance their plans. The most remarkable scene in the episode happens between Mulder and Scully when Mulder reads aloud from his sister’s journal, which he found at Cigarette Smoking Man’s house, about the tests done to her, about her faint memories of a brown-haired brother she’d like to hug, about her plans to run away, and, later, he learns about the self-inflicted scars on her arms and legs, all of which coalesces for Mulder into the sad and simple truth, which he sought from 1989 onwards, that his sister died. Mulder passes the search onto Pillar at the end when he tells him he saw his son. Pillar refused to believe and vowed to search until he found him. Cigarette Smoking Man’s line about hope underscores the fundamental divide between him and Mulder. He didn’t speak a word about the death of Samantha, because he thought Mulder needed hope. Mulder only wanted the truth.

Fans seem to either hate “Closure” or love “Closure.” The episode possibly hits a lot of things the writers did ‘wrong’ if such a thing is possible in creative writing in the fans’ perspective. I don’t know what’s next in season seven. The X Files’ writers didn’t build to exciting finales. The episode before a finale could be Mulder’s investigations of a bug creature in a call center followed by a heavy mytholgoy episode. Seasons were dotted with a lot of stand-alone stories; those episodes were separated by myth-arc business at the beginning of the season and at winter and spring sweeps.

So, no, I won’t stop watching the series. Season seven’s not different from previous seasons. The episodes range from great to very bad. I might check back in a few weeks when the cast changes and write a sentence that agrees with those who warned me to stop watching. Right now I don’t want to miss the unexpected delightful episodes, or an episode like “Field Trip” that’ll leave me entranced for 45 minutes, or something as gloomy, solemn, and sort of beautiful as “Closure.”

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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.